I received a call from Joe “Butterball” Tamburro, Program Director at Clear Channel’s WDAS-FM, on Sunday, August 10th informing me that Isaac Hayes had passed away. Lord have mercy. I had just interviewed Isaac Hayes last week.
One of the most electrifying performers and legendary icons in the history of soul music, Isaac Hayes was 65 years old; it was just ten days prior to his 66th birthday. At the time of his death, Mr. Hayes was preparing for a reunion concert celebrating 50 years of Stax Records, along with his label mates William Bell, Eddie Floyd and the Bar-Kays. He had been scheduled to appear at Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center on Friday, August 15, 2008.
On Wednesday, August 6th, Mr. Hayes was gracious enough to give me a telephone interview in anticipation of the concert, for a freelance story I was contributing to the Philadelphia Tribune. What started out as a preview and feature article suddenly is an obituary, a tribute, an appreciation.
The epitome of cool, Mr. Hayes’ signature style was characterized by his clean-shaven head, dark glasses and at the height of his fame, the gold chains worn against his bare chest and taut torso. He first gained recognition as a songwriter and session artist for Stax Records, backing up such legendary singers as Otis Redding. Later, he became the label’s premiere act; the 1969 release of “Hot Buttered Soul” catapulted him into stardom. From 1997 to 2006 he originated the voice of “Chef,” a character on “South Park,” the Comedy Central animated television series.
As a singer-songwriter, film score composer, arranger, producer, band leader, and instrumentalist, Hayes contributed some of the most enduring contemporary music recorded during the last half of the 20th century, most notably the film score for the 1971 motion picture, Shaft, which garnered him a 1972 Academy Award and two Grammy Awards.
Also known as “Black Moses,” coined after the release of his 1971 album of the same title, Mr. Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. He thrilled audiences with hits featuring lush arrangements, including “The Theme From Shaft,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” “Do Your Thing,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Walk on By,” “I Stand Accused,” “The Look of Love,” and a plethora of others. He was also a radio show host, and an actor of merit, having appeared in dozens of feature films. Not only is Isaac Hayes entertainment royalty he was actually coronated a king in the West African nation of Ghana because of his humanitarian efforts. Truly he will be missed. Thank God for the legacy he left behind.